Wednesday, 2 December 2009

US and the Afghanistan Decision

President Obama has come in for much criticism in recent weeks over his delay to make a decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan. I would imagine that there is nothing harder for a leader than ordering people to go to a place where they will be in constant danger and unfortunately some of them killed.

The rights and wrongs of this war have been argued by smarter people than I. I just want to make a few comments on his decision.

The war against Iraq was a knee jerk reaction to the tragic events of September 11th. I see no problem in any leader taking their time to make a decision about sending people into 'Harms way'. Taking time can:

- Lead to more effective decision making

- Prepare properly with equipment...

- Define what the mission actually is

and one thing that has been missing in US planning and engagement in the previous administration is HOW DO WE GET OUT. What will define 'Mission Accomplished'?

Hopefully this pause for though has enabled the President and his advisers to have answers to the above questions.

I would rather a political leader who thinks for a while rather than one who declares 'Dead or Alive' anyday. Lets keep that stuff in the world of fantasy and Hollywood where it belongs.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

John Zogby coming to Belfast

Looking forward to hearing from US Pollmaster John Zogby next week at the University of Ulster. It should be interesting

Monday, 23 November 2009

Abusing people in Belfast and Facebook

I was made aware today about a facebook site that celebrates the abuse of Romanian flower sellers in Belfast. This is a revolting site. The comments range from sexual references to some disgusting treatment of the flower sellers.

It is worrying that almost 400 people have become fans of this site.

I would request that people take one or more of the following actions

1. Report the page to Facebook and demand that it be removed
2. Report the Facebook site to the Police Service Northern Ireland
3. Write to the schools, universities and workplaces of these people making the comments and ask them if these are the students/employees they really wish to have (thanks Nick)
4. Write or call your local MP, MLA or councillor and get them on the case to have it removed.

Lets get this site down by the end of the day and the creators reported.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Bills in Queen's Speech: Northern Ireland

The foillowing is a list of Bills from the Queen's Speech that apply all or in part to Northern Ireland. (Edited from BBC)

Here is an at-a-glance list of the bills outlined in the 2009 Queen's Speech programme:

Bribery Bill
Makes it illegal to bribe a foreign official to obtain or retain business. Makes it an offence if businesses fail to prevent a bribe being paid by their employees or by other firms on their behalf. Extends to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Child Poverty Bill
Puts into law the government's commitment to end child poverty by 2020. Ensures the government must make annual reports to Parliament on the success of its strategies to end child poverty. Duty on all local authorities to deal with the problem. Whole bill applies to England. Some parts also apply to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Children, Schools and Families Bill
Offers pupil and parent guarantees for standards of education. Schools to be given "report cards". Promises "greater flexibility" for primary schools to set their own curriculums. Also ensures that all young people receive at least one year of sex and relationships education. Home educators will have to be registered and inspected. A review of the publication of family proceedings in court. Whole bill applies to England. Other parts cover Wales and extends in part to Northern Ireland.

Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill
Makes it an offence to use, produce, develop, acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer cluster munitions. Applies to whole UK.

Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill
Creates basis in law for Parliament to scrutinise treaties. Ends the by-election of hereditary peers to sit in House of Lords. Provides for disqualification of peers convicted of serious offences or subject to a bankruptcy order. Allows peers to resign peerages. Repeals legislation limiting protests around Parliament. Generally extends to whole UK.

Digital Economy Bill
Gives media regulator Ofcom the duty to assess the UK's communications infrastructure every two years. Updates regulations to make the digital radio switchover possible by 2015. Makes age ratings compulsory on all video games designed for children aged 12 and above. Promises to tackle infringement of copyright more effectively. Updates regulations for Channel 4, so it has to put public service content on its websites. Extends to whole UK.

Financial Services Bill
Establishes a Council for Financial Stability, chaired by the chancellor, and comprising Treasury, Bank of England and Financial Services Authority (FSA). Strengthens the FSA to take "action" on pay of those in financial services, following the recent outcry over bonuses. Promises action, in UK and internationally, on bankers' pay. Makes banks and other financial firms set up "living will" to make them easier to wind down in the event of a crisis. Bans unsolicited credit card cheques and enables the setting up of national money guidance service. Allows groups of consumers to bring court actions against financial institutions. Applies to whole UK.

Fiscal Responsibility Bill
Provides a "firm and binding statutory basis" for the government's promise to halve its budget deficit within four years. Gives Parliament power to approve medium-term fiscal plans. Promises that businesses and investors will have "certainty" about the government's fiscal plans. Applies to whole UK.

House of Lords Reform Bill

Promises that the Lords will be between 80% and 100% elected. States the government should not hold a majority in the second chamber and its members must be independent. Applies to whole UK.

International Development Spending Bill
Requires that 0.7% of gross national income is spent on development from 2013. Applies to whole UK.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Obesity costing £500m

The Health Committee Report on Obesity was presented to the Northern Ireland Assembly by Health Chair Jim Wells MLA. The estimated cost to our health services is £500m per year but fears were expressed that the issue could overwhelm the service in future years.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Water Water Everywhere!

Listening to the news this week I have become abit frustrated at hearing about the response to recent flooding whether it be in Belfast or the North West or wherever.

On this issue passing the buck has become a fine art! Rivers Agency, Road Service, PSNI, Water Service, NIEA, SIB, DRD.......(and whoever else). The situation is an embarassment.

There should be one Agency dealing with flooding with a budget drawn from all the present agencies who allegedly deal with the issue. Flooding is not a new thing here so in the immortal words of Monty Python 'GET ON WITH IT!!'

I look forward (but wont be holding my breath)to the day when politicians responsible for the ineffectual workings of their agencies are held to account at the polls.

Friday, 23 October 2009

He came, He spoke and He failed

Many people including several hundred protestors objected to Nick Griffin and the BNP having a place on BBC Question Time last night.

There is an old saying which was proven wrong last night - no publicity is bad publicity.

Griffin couldnt even decide what his party was for, couldnt answer a straight question and if you were to give him the benefit of the doubt was a person who hadnt said anything in months. I know photoshop and editing are great but he was denying things he had said that were filmed.

I was a bit concerned about him being on Question Time but now I am glad he was.

Griffin has no knowledge of history, politics, society and how he ever got a law degree is beyond me.

It was a good night - shining a light on these people shows that they are just another bunch of ignorant thugs - but then what does that make the people who vote for them and what does it mean for other political parties when people are prepared to vote BNP. That is something worth worrying about.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Joining the Dots with our Economic Diaspora

"I believe strongly that, you know, we have an opportunity every time there is a challenge. And being smart and creative, flexible, agile, in today's economic conditions is an absolute necessity."

These were the words of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a meeting in Belfast last week with business leaders.

It has never been more important for our economy to be smart,creative, flexible and agile. We are facing an economic situation that sees 53,800 people be without jobs in Northern Ireland. Despite the great news from the New York Stock Exchange a lot more innovative paths to investment will have to be sought before we will be out of the woods.

In response to this The President's Club in Belfast, an organisation dedicated to developing and enhancing crossborder and cross Atlantic business relationships has organised an event that will start us on a path to engage with our economic diaspora.

The event which takes place tomorrow morning is part of the 'Silicon Valley comes to Ireland' Initiative organised by the Irish Technology Leadership Group. The discussions will be chaired by economist and journalist John Simpson and will be addressed by Dr. Graham Gudgin one of the authors of the Independent Review of the Economy (IREP - well as representatives from InvestNI, Enterprise Ireland and a host of business people from across the island and the USA.

I hope to twitter and at some stages blog on the event. If you have any questions please send them to me and I will do my best to raise them.

Please send your questions to
or to my facebook or this blog.

The event runs from 8am - 11.45am althought there are a range of other ITLG events happening in Belfast.

Mark Durkan on Policing - in Swansea

“We need to seal the deal on the devolution of justice now. The Assembly should be the better for having a full share of powers under the devolved brief.

“The anger of the DUP/SF gerrymandering of the justice ministry deepens, as does the need for devolution. We need the legal powers to protect the vulnerable and better laws and ways to address the youth at risk and young people involved in crime.

“North-South is going slow and staying slow and a vital democratic part of the Good Friday Agreement is punching far below its weight.

“At the time of recession when money is tight, when we share a small part of this island, North-South should be going higher, wider and deeper. This is not happening on the DUP/SF watch and it doesn’t add up on any level.

“The First Minister and Deputy First Minister should publish the budget offer from the Prime Minister for the devolution of justice, whether the figures add up or if they are cobbled together.

“Behind the Gordon Brown offer, there’s a real temptation for the DUP that it will find ways to resist. The temptation will be to move it at a higher price for the devolution of justice. This may see damage to Patten, erosion of the Parades Commission and further challenges to the values of the Good Friday Agreement.

“The British government must hold secure to any of this.”

Irish Reunification speech - Gerry Adams Swansea

October 20, 2009

Remarks by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP MLA to the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly in Swansea today:

I want to begin by thanking the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly for the invitation to speak here today.

Over the years this Assembly, through its committees and plenary meetings, has created a context in which parliamentarians from Ireland and Britain are able to come together and discuss issues of mutual importance.

This Assembly especially allows TDs and MLAs, from the two elected bodies on the island of Ireland, to come together to discuss all-Ireland co-operation and related subjects.

While this institution, through the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body, predates the Good Friday Agreement, there can be no doubt that the focus of much of your work is rooted in that Agreement and the political institutions that emerged from it.

This is very important.

The Good Friday Agreement is a unique document.

It was born out of centuries of British involvement in Irish affairs. This resulted in conflict, communal division and sectarianism, the partition of the island of Ireland, the partition of Ulster, and the creation of a unionist dominated state in the north eastern part of our country.

Partition was not just a line on the map; it was the construction of a system of political apartheid which relied on discrimination and denied democracy and justice.

Resolving the many complexities resulting from this was never going to be easy.

The Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement put in place mechanisms and arrangements which seek to do that.

These include political matters, institutional arrangements, human rights, equality, policing, justice, language and culture issues.

As well as the crucial issue of constitutional matters.

And it does all of this in an all-Ireland context.

These Agreements are also significant instruments of change; real change in real ways in peoples daily lives.

For this reason elements of political unionism opposed to this new dispensation seek to minimise, to dilute and to delay its potential or to oppose it entirely.

So, the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement continue to face huge challenges, not least in the failure of the British government to fulfil its obligations, for example, on Irish language rights.

But for the purpose of today’s remarks let me focus on the issue that has dominated politics from before partition – the constitutional issue! That is the relationship between Ireland and Britain.

The Good Friday Agreement clearly sets out the political realities.

It recognises that it is for the people of the island of Ireland to determine our own future – to exercise our self-determination.

In the event that a majority of people in the north prefer a sovereign United Ireland then the British government will legislate for it.

The agreement also sets out the mechanism by which this will happen – by means of a ‘border poll’.

So, there you have it.

The people living on the island of Ireland can determine our own future, and–when a majority in the north and a majority in the south opt for Irish re-unification, the constitutional process to bring that about will kick in.

The Good Friday Agreement therefore provides for a constitutional route to Irish unity.

That is a significant achievement.

Sinn Féin seeks to build on this by:

Working in partnership with others of like mind in Ireland to build political support for Irish reunification.

There is a particular responsibility for all parties in the Oireachtas and particularly for the government in Dublin to actively work for reunification.

We have to persuade unionists – or at least a section of unionism – that such a development makes political, social and economic sense – that it serves their self-interest.

There is already a growing awareness of the importance to our future prosperity and growth, of the all-Ireland economy and of all-Ireland connections in health, education, energy, the environment and much more.

These are commonsense arrangements which must be built upon.

Sinn Féin is also currently engaged with unionists and especially with disadvantaged unionist working class areas, to a greater extent than ever before.

We need to address the genuine fears and concerns of unionists in a meaningful way.

We need to look at what they mean by their sense of Britishness and be willing to explore and to be open to new concepts.

We need to look at ways in which the unionist people can find their place in a new Ireland.

In other words it needs to be their United Ireland.

So, there are many issues for republicans and unionists to talk about. However it is worth noting that within the current British system, unionists are fewer than 2 per cent of the population; they cannot hope to have any significant say in the direction of their own affairs.

As 20 per cent of a new Ireland, unionists will be able to assert their full rights and entitlements and exercise real political power and influence.

So, Sinn Féin’s vision of a new Ireland is of a shared Ireland, an integrated Ireland, an Ireland in which unionists have equal ownership; an Ireland in which there will be respect for cultural diversity, and a place in which there is political, social, economic and cultural equality.

There is no desire on the part of Irish republicans to conquer or humiliate unionists.

There can be no place for revenge in the thinking or vocabulary of Irish Republicanism.

Nationalists and republicans want our rights, but we do not seek to deny the rights of anybody else. The real distinction that we have always drawn is between justice and privilege. Justice for all and privilege for none.

This means, for example, that Orange marches will have their place, in a new Ireland albeit on the basis of respect and cooperation.

But the Irish question, as it has been described over the years by some, is not simply one for the Irish.

There is not only a democratic requirement on the part of the peoples of Britain to adopt a positive stance on how the Irish question should be finally settled, there is a moral imperative.

It is one thing saying that unionists should not be frogmarched into a united Ireland; it is another to adopt the position of silence in the face of whether or not a united Ireland should come into being, in whatever negotiated form that will entail.

The peoples of Britain have a duty to themselves, to unionists in particular, to the Irish in general, and even to the world, to stand up and speak their opinion on the issue of the reunification of Ireland.

I believe that the economic and political dynamics in Ireland today make Irish reunification a realistic and realisable goal in a reasonable period of time.

I invite the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly to join in this historic endeavour.

We have to persuade the British government to change its policy from one of upholding the union to one of becoming a persuader for Irish unity.

This also involves persuading the other political representatives of the peoples of these islands – whether in Scotland or Wales or the North of England or London or the Isle of Man or Guernsey, that their interests are also served by helping the people of Ireland achieve reunification.

There are also common sense economic and social and environmental and health and many other reasons why Irish reunification makes sense over partition.

In reality the border is more than just an inconvenience.

It is an obstacle to progress and while its adverse affects are most clearly felt in the communities that straddle the border, it also impacts negatively throughout the island.

The reality is that the economy of the North is too small to exist in isolation.

The economies of both parts of the island are interlinked and interdependent.

The delivery of public services is restricted and inefficient.

There are two competing industrial development bodies seeking inward investment, with no coordination in supporting local industries.

We have two arts councils and two sports councils and three tourists’ bodies.

This is not efficient.

There are some who suggest that because we live in a period of severe economic difficulty that Irish reunification should be put off for the foreseeable future.

In fact the opposite is the case.

There is now a need, more than ever, for the island economy to be brought into being in the fullest sense, and for the political and administrative structures to be instituted with that in mind.

Many in the business community, north and south, already recognise this fact.

And all the indications are that the European Union also understands how the needs of Ireland can best be met by treating it as an island rather than as two entities on an island.

Geography does not necessarily determine politics, but neither can it be ignored in assessing what is the most effective approach to meeting the challenges of economic development and satisfying the needs of communities.

The Good Friday agreement is an opportunity to develop understanding and to advocate rationally, the benefits of Irish reunification.

The institutional elements of the Good Friday Agreement and of St. Andrews are therefore important mechanisms to be built upon.

The Good Friday Agreement also proposed the establishment of an All-Ireland Civic Forum and an All-Ireland Parliamentary Forum.

An All-Ireland Civic Forum could offer a very important input for citizens throughout the island to discuss problems of a common nature.

It could also enable a greater level of mutual understanding to develop.

As for an All-Ireland Parliamentary Forum, the important work of this body provides ample evidence of the benefits that would derive from the establishment of such a body.

So, my friends if I was to reduce all of these remarks to one sentence it would be to repeat what I have said earlier; there is a democratic requirement and moral imperative on the part of the peoples of Britain to adopt a positive stance on how the Irish question should be finally settled.

This means initiating and supporting measures to bring about the reunification of the people of Ireland." ENDS

Monday, 19 October 2009

Good News for Economy at Last

Last week I had the pleasure of accompanying US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her various visits around Belfast. Some members of the media whilst loving the photos viewed the visit as a pat on the back or even an ego trip for the Secretary.

These people need to wake up and realise that someone in her position does not have time for such idle ego triping. And quite frankly who cares if there were boards on the Europa Hotel or not.

Today shows the real tangible benefits of having the attention of a US Secretary of State. The New York Stock Exchange is creating 400 jobs here in the coming years. Below is the welcome from our First and Deputy First Minister. Congratulations as well to Invest NI. This is the priority not these other irrelevancies.

"First Minister Peter Robinson, MP MLA, and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, MP MLA, today formally welcomed plans by NYSE Euronext (NYX) to expand the business operations of its NYSE Technologies division in Belfast.

Invest Northern Ireland will provide up to £9.6million to support the move of NYSE Technologies business operations into a new state-of-the-art development facility in 2010 and the creation of up to 400 new technology, operational and corporate jobs, which include 75 positions from a prior agreement, in the coming years.

NYSE Euronext recognises its operations in Belfast as a centre of excellence for the delivery of innovative technology solutions, specifically low latency messaging capabilities, data distribution and securities operations to serve its expanding global client base.

First Minister Rt. Hon Peter Robinson, MP MLA, said: “Today’s announcement that NYSE Euronext intends to expand its operations and staff in Belfast is yet another positive step forward by Invest NI in the growth of our local financial services sector, particularly at a time when global competition for such investment has never been higher. NYSE Technologies is an enterprise which works at the very core of the trading world, developing advanced software solutions for global trading markets.”

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, MP MLA, said: “No one should doubt the scale and significance of this expansion which is a major endorsement of our local talent, knowledge and infrastructure. It will also send a clear message to other potential investors when such a high profile institution decides to invest here. Over the past two years I, along with the First Minister and his predecessor have had an ongoing engagement with Duncan and his colleagues which we are delighted has led to this announcement.”

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said: “Having met with the company in New York in December, and more recently in Belfast, I am delighted to see this latest project come to fruition today. Following on from last year’s announcement at the US Investment Conference, through this latest expansion, NYSE Euronext’s commitment to Northern Ireland sends a strong message to other potential investors that this is an exceptional place to locate and grow a business.”

Duncan Niederauer, Chief Executive Officer, NYSE Euronext, said: "We welcome the opportunity to partner with Invest NI and to expand our presence in Belfast. Northern Ireland will become increasingly important to our global growth strategy and complement our technology centres in Paris and London. Together, these centres of excellence will enable us to effectively address the growing technology and trading needs of our customers and our company."

Stanley Young, Chief Executive Officer, NYSE Technologies and Co-Global Chief Information Officer, NYSE Euronext, added: "Our operation in Belfast has exceeded expectations for the delivery of advanced software solutions for our global clients. The calibre of people, combined with Invest NI’s support and the growing financial services and ICT sectors, fits extremely well with our business objectives."

Friday, 16 October 2009

Bomb attack in East Belfast

This morning a car bomb exploded close to where I live in Belfast slightly injuring a relative of a police officer.

Thankfully the injuries were not more serious. It is likely that this attack was carried out by dissident republicans. It is anticipated that there will be more attacks like this one.

Our politicians have rightly condemned this crazy act and have said that it will not be tolerated. So what can they do?

1. Agree the budget for policing and justice and get it devolved as quickly as possible

2. End the bickering in public and argue the rights and wrongs inside Parliament Buildings and not in the media

3. Show the dissidents that the Assembly has the support of people from all sides of the community including Republicans

4. Challenge the dissidents to show their plan for a United Ireland or whatever it is they claim to want.

Following the very encouraging visit this week by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton let us show that this island will not accept a few lunatics dragging us back to the past. These groups had nothing but death and destruction to offer then and they have certainly nothing to offer now.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Farmleigh II

The second session of the North South Consultative Forum lost the run of itself a little bit. It was an open session for any organisation to suggest agendas and talk about their experiences of North South activity. There was nothing new in this!

There were several complaints that there were no representatives from OFMDFM at the Forum. According to the Dept. of the Taoiseach they were invited. I have my doubts about how much pushing there was to get some representative down.

A North South Consultative Forum must have buy in from both administrations North and South if it is to be relevant. Extra buy in from the EU and a reluctant British government would also be welcome.

It is very hard to decide what the purpose of this meeting was. Was it to gauge support for such a forum? If so it was a waste of time as it is in the St Andrews Agreement therefore there has to be one. I would like to know what the goals of the Taoiseach were for this meeting.

For me the meeting was great - i networked with over 200 organisations and made some good contacts. It would have been good to meet organisations from the South but there were very few there.

At the end of the meeting (which was recorded) there was no suggestion of a next meeting or what the next steps were - steering group, agenda setting, resource identification...

It will be interesting to see if this will be carried forward. If so, one question - what does it add to what already exists. More on the twitter


It was an early start to be here for 9am! so forgive spelling grammar etc.

Farmleigh is a magnificent building set in the midst of Phoenix Park. To get here this morning we did have to go down a road that had a works sign stating Road Closed. I hope that this is not a sign for the rest of the day!

Anyway, the speech from the Taoiseach was relatively predictable. The host of civil society and economic organisations were complimented on their work. Taoiseach then stated the importance of continuing the peace process.

He did state that he had directed his officials and Ministers to be open to engaging with civil society and also said to me in a brief discussion afterwards that The Innovation Taskforce recently set up to develop a smart economy will be open to looking at and having discussion on how it can proceed on an all-island basis. This might in time make up for NI being sidelined at the huge economic conference here in September.

The audience who are largely from organisations in NI do seem to have a few issues surrounding the event. Questions such as why are we here? Havent we done all this before? What happens next? are all being asked.

I think the purpose so far is to see should we still have a North South Consultative Forum and what should it do.

I am a bit concerned that the majority of organisations represented are from NI. How and can we make this initiative relevant to people on the island as a whole?

One more thing - dont forget organisations have been at this for 20 or more years - lets bring something new and lets not reinvent or duplicate the wheel.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

North South Consultative Forum

Will be blogging and twittering from the first North South Consultative Forum that will be held in Dublin tomorrow at Farmleigh.

It is an initiative from Taoiseach Brian Cowen to look at the future of North South relations in terms of social, civil and economic relations.

I hope it is not just an effort to make up for not including Northern Ireland in the huge economic diaspora event held in Farmleigh in September.There was only one Northern Ireland representative at the event and despite often referring to the Northern Ireland peace process and tackling challenges on an all-island basis there wasnt even a session on crossborder trade.

Hopefully this will be a new commitment from an Irish government fresh from the victory over the Lisbon Treaty.

So lets see what happens tomorrow.

Monday, 12 October 2009


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has left Northern Ireland. Happy travels.

City Hall to Airport

Right its time to go - this time to the airport although I get the feeling the plane might wait.

I know I have been lighthearted about the motorcade and the plane and other trappings of power. Yes it is a statement of power but it is also a statement that says we need to be at a location at a certain time and in safety. The people that I have met and dealt with in the last 24 hours are friendly and helpful but also they have a very srious job to do.

As i sit in the van at the back of the motorcade with traffic being stopped all over the place I watch the press corps who are trying to file stories on Northern Ireland and North Korea and are speaking in various languages on other stories that they may be working on. They really are an inquisitive bunch with questions on politics, economics or religion. Also now that they have to travel with the Secretary to Russia it does make me realise the sacrifice that these people must make with being away from home, family and friends. If you are reading this thank you for the fun, challenging questions and by the way George Best is a major football hero here1

Without wishing to over do the theme - the embassy and consulate support staff, security and State Department staff make a similar sacrifice with long hours probably normally being very far from home and important events such as the birth of a child and I send best wishes to the security agent who is awaiting some good news -hope you make it home on time.

Of course all of the above applies to our special guest. The Secretary of State has had a smile and encouragement for everyone she has met. (I am convinced I got a personal wave and smile after what must have been a long week and wasnt over yet). We make many complaints about politicians and often rightly so but lets remember the sacrifices and service they offer.

Right on the tarmac again and time to wave goodbye.To the Secretary of State I hope we see you again and take advantage of the attention, encouragement and commitment that you have shown to Northern Ireland.

Time to open City Hall

Leaving Queen's University and off to our final stop of the day - the official opening of City Hall in Belfast.

Traffic has been of a nightmare and we have got slightly separated from the motorcade. Never fear the press will make it through once some motorbikes are moved. Then its a quick run up the stairs and poor ABC are carrying around a lot of heavy equipment.

First thing to say is our City Hall looks amazing and am very proud that it shows off our city in a very positive light to our very special guest and the international media. Well done everyone at City Hall and thank you.

An unfortunate accident befell former Speaker Eileen Bell prior to our arrival. We all wish her a speedy recovery.

Perhaps realising that this was the last event (at least for a few hours) the Secretary appeared very relaxed and was amongst friends including a delegation of prominent women leaders from 'Vital Voices'. There was even time for a bit of humour when she refered to the Titanic Signature Project as a brave move to name something after the Titanic. I am reasonably sure a member of the audience said 'It was fine when it left Belfast...'

The Secretary praised the role that women have played and continue to play in the peace process. One or two men were praised the first was Michael Long the husband of our Lord Mayor who has a lot of late nights at work and of course the work of John Hume to bring peace to NI.

Clinton at Queens University Belfast

The show now moves from Stormont to Queen's University at quite a pace thanks to the job done by Close Protection Unit and motorcycle outriders who kindly stop all traffic (guys any chance I could borrow you for rush hour at home time???)

Queens is a business focused event. Unfortunately it is a closed event so am not allowed to hear all that is said. As it turns out the event despite the best intentions of embassy, consulate and other staff overran a bit so I hope this was a good sign. This I believe shows the Clinton focus on the issue of Northern Ireland and its prosperity its hard to imagine another world leader giving so much time to 'our wee country'.

The Secretary was joined by Economic Envoy Declan Kelly who is always exceptionally polite and is a man with a mission to deliver results. His total focus is productivity and refreshingly whilst he recognises the need for politicians will not be distracted by them.

Queen's University won the admiration of the press corps by laying on very welcome refreshments. Brownie point successfully attained so say Washington Post and ABC.

After a long wait (apologies to all those people waiting at City Hall)the Secretary accompanied by a range of business leaders as well as Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment Arlene Foster and Minister of Employment and Learning Sir Reg Empey.

The remarks by the Secretary were again a call for political stability so that focus can be placed on the economy. She celebrated not only the traditional and personal ties to Northern Ireland but also a hope that we can develop a mutually beneficial relationship.

Controversial time...Perhaps we in Northern Ireland could at least start to look at ways that we can return the massive political and economic favour that has been shown to us?

A few questions by Mark Devenport and Ken Reid and then the New York Times who gave us a reminder that Northern Ireland is not the only focus for the Secretary of State when he asked about missile tests in North Korea.

Set against this and other international backdrops (Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Israel/Gaza...) Northern Ireland is truly lucky that a place of 1.7million people engenders such good will from. the most powerful country in the world.

Right...the blogger has been shouted for and I have my escort of secret service and US Airforce officers ...or was I hanging on at the end? Delusions of grandeur are soon erased when the charming head of motorcade Scott in his own lovely way says GET ON THE BUS!

Assembly Speech

After a super running effort on my part from press to the back of motorcade, I have eventually made it to the Assembly. I didn't have to sign in and no need for a pass. Yeah! I could get used to this.

First time in the Press Gallery and for the 10th time have been told to switch off my mobile phone. Yes, I have been in the building once or twice.

The public gallery was packed with former politicians, like John Hume, and dignitaries such as Matt Baggott, the new Chief Constable of the PSNI. Oh and Stephen Warke everybody!!!

The speech was reasonably predictable - congratulating the parties on how far they have come, and the important leadership they can provide to the people of Northern Ireland. It was speculated in some circles that the Secretary of State would try and push our First and Deputy First Ministers to do the deal on policing and justice.

The Secretary looked in the general direction of the DUP benches and stated that the USA was not here to 'meddle' on this issue. Then looking towards the Sinn Fein benches she stated that the US would encourage all political parties to do the deal on policing and justice and to complete the devolution process.

Then the Secretary encouraged the politicians to work together to solve the economic challenges facing Northern Ireland. This would be supported by the new Special Economic Envoy, Declan Kelly.

Now we are being whisked off to Queens for a business session which is going to be closed...boooo! Eye Spy will try and find out more!

Stormont Castle

It is a beautiful October morning in Belfast. The normal hussle and bustle of rush hour traffic has been held up by the motorcade of the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. We are off to Stormont Castle for the first meetings of the day.

At the Castle the Secretary will be having private meetings with the First and Deputy First Minsters. High on the agenda will be political issues (despite efforts to make this day about the economy)with policing and justice being top of the agenda. A letter is expected to be sent from 10 Downing Street to OFMDFM to confirm the budget for policing and justice.

Then it is off next door to Parliament Buildings to give an historic speech before a full Assembly.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Day 2 Clinton

Early start this morning after the excitement of yesterday. It was very cool waiting on the tarmac as the Secretary of State came down the steps. Then it was a fast run to the hotel and help settle press corps in. Ended up having a long chat with State Department officials on Northern Ireland issues.

Today will be a lot busier and very fast moving.

Looking forward to hearing remarks at the NI Assembly later.

Should be on Good Morning Ulster at around 7.50am

Purpose of the Clinton Visit

Now that we have a few minutes where nothing is happening (and the Close Protection Unit have supplied coffee!) I can get a chance to have a think about why this is all happening. Why is the second most powerful politician in the world coming to 'our wee country'?

It is a case that the Clinton's have developed over the years a very close affinity with the people of this island and a genuine concern for its future. The focus of the future is principally economic as opposed to purely political.

Northern Ireland is also seen as a success story in terms of peace processes. (Today the INLA said that it would decommission weapons) Wouldn't it be a great legacy to Northern Ireland and a big thank you to those countries like the United States, who have helped us, if one of our major exports was a guide to resolving conflict?

The US Secretary of State recently appointed Declan Kelly as the new Special Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland. His aim is to quickly get positive economic results for both NI and the USA. We need to take full advantage of this great, and possibly temporary, opportunity to be a centrepiece of foreign policy for the USA.

This important visit will naturally act as a stimulus for our politicians to see the bigger picture and focus on issues that genuinely matter to people.

I do get a sense that our luck will eventually run out and that other areas from around the world will become the focus of attention.

Policing and Justice has been the major distraction here for weeks, months or even years and it now needs to be sorted so that the economy can have the full and undivided attention of our politicians.

This visit is our opportunity to shine on the world stage, so let us show the world that Northern Ireland is open for business.


We have finally started moving again. This time we are at the back of a ten vehicle motorcade with various police cars and about 10 outriders who are going ahead to stop traffic and push us through redlights.

Bit of a surreal experience with the public looking in trying to figure out who is in the cars - no one at this stage. Big temptation to wave and pretend to be someone famous. So did anyone give in to this temptation? As the saying goes "What happens on the motorcade stays on the motorcade!"

Another security check with dogs...nothing found so we are now, yes you guessed it, waiting again and swapping stories of other visits that people have been involved in.

As you might expect it is a very well organised and detailed visit, but the number and types of people involved is staggering. It makes me wonder what previous Presidential visits were like or what an Obama visit might be like.

First Impressions

First impressions might be a little surprising for those of us who do not normally join motorcades for senior world leaders.

There is an awful lot of waiting around, looking at watches and in this case looking at US Secret Service officers checking, checking and checking. So for a while I am a political tourist watching others do their work.

Watching some people working to try and satisfy the media demands from local, national and international press.

There are moments of excitement when the motorcade starts coming together, specific jobs are handed out and things start moving.

Recommendations so far are- get sleep before the big day, wear comfortable shoes, bring some sweets and a flask of coffee (just in case our friends at the PSNI forgets the coffee!!! which is fine, no absolutely fine.)

Anyway hope to have some more things to say in a while.

Day 1 Clinton Visit

Well it is the start of a very exciting and interesting 24 hours accompanying Secretary of State Clinton on her visit to NI.

So, suited and booted, I received my first crucial mission - to get drinkies for the press corps. Mission is accomplished with the aid of my beautiful assistant(wife) Ursula. So I hope they like the black stuff!!

Wheels up so the Secretary is on her way to a sunny NI. Off to get security checked and then picked up.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Clinton visit to Northern Ireland

I have been lucky enough to be chosen as the local blogger attached to the State Department for the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Northern Ireland.

Received the briefing today and I will be travelling in the motorcade and accompanying the team to most of the meetings.

I will try to give an impression of what it is to be an observer of this kind of visit. There are many better people to give impressions of policy implications, but I will have a go at that as well.

It is quite humbling to not only be considered but accepted to do this kind of thing. The West Wing fan inside of me has been going mad for a while until final confirmation yesterday!

I will be joining officials from the State Department and journalists from AP; Reuters; AFP; New York Times; Washington Post; Bloomberg; BBC; Wall Street Journal; CNN and ABC. So really looking forward to meeting them and learning from their experiences.

Anyway, I will be doing a mixture of live and after blogging and will try and post on twitter - as much as I am allowed.

Thank you to all who arranged this and I hope you enjoy the results!!!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

What has the Assembly ever done for us?

Internal tensions in the Office of First and Deputy First Minister have recently been in the media. Publicly this is between Peter Robionson and Martin McGuinness who cannot agree on how to convince Downing Street to give an adequate budget for policing and justice.

First thing to say is the budget for policing and justice will be found. But at what cost?

Every few days we hear about financial pressures on education and health with reductions in services and bed closures likely to be only the start.

Policing and justice are not the only issues being held up. There are a substantial number of issues - over 35 - that are being delayed at Executive level.

With all of this background I started a conversation on Facebook (which is still ongoing) to ask people what successes the Asswembly has had. The aim of this is to keep a balance with the gloom and doom. The following list has been cobbled together from submissions to date and are not all mine:

Free perscriptions
Reduced hospital waiting lists
Development of the Cathedral Quarter
Funding to make school buses safer
Air Route Development Fund - developing direct flights to US and elsewhere
Ability to independently protect NI beef exports during various BSE crises
Fuel Poverty Strategy - Winter Fuel Payment
Free Travel for the elderly
Small Business Rates Relief
New Bus and Train fleet
Public Accounts Committee - holding public agencies to account
Protection of HomeStart Services
Promotion of Renewable Energy

Please feel free to add to list on facebook or here. But just remember when the media and politicians are full of gloom and doom some real successes have been delivered for the people on the ground.

To our politicians - as you can see above you can do good! Do not get side tracked on silly arguments. Delivering for the people who put you there is what is important now more than ever. In this election year please remember what the people giveth the people can take away.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Clinton Global Iniative and Northern Ireland

OFM, DFM, Declan Kelly (DK) (Envoy) Sec. of State (SoS), Michael Martin (MM)(Foreign Affairs) join President Bill Clinton (BC) to discuss Northern Ireland at Global Iniative in New York. Reg Empey was in the audience and answered questions.

FM has said that NI has strong political stability and inspite of difficulties NI is a good place to invest. When it comes to terrorist attacks the community stands together. Unemployment can lead to increase terrorism. It is up to politicians to make people feel the benefits of devolution.

BC to DFM: why invest in NI? why or how is the economy central to your strategy?

DFM: Thanked President Clinton for his focus on NI when he was in White House. Talks of role Clinton played including the meeting with Gerry Adams.

Talked of relationship with Paisley and said

DFM: As good a relationship with Peter Robinson as Ian Paisley. Its not easy being in government with DUP and Peter would say same of SF but no where else to go. The War is over people want peace.

We have a talented and very skilled workforce, two great universities, please come and see it for yourself we will give a good package along with InvestNI

BC to DK: What can we do? What is the strategy?

DK: There are 600 inside room and 300 outside waiting to get in so that shows the interest.

Forget its NI its an island of 1.7m with low cost base, best educated workforce in UK, lowest unemployment in EU. £785m invested by 43 companies when in recession

Strategy - Short - get people over to see it and work with InvestNI
Strategy - Long - focus on industries such as Financial services, Connected Health, Technology, Business services - There will be a promotional programme to reflect success in NI. Need to be patient and realistic.

SoS - There are great opportunities for private sector in NI. Our determination is to underpin stability for policing and justice by providing a good budget.

BC - Value of link with RoI

MM - Celebrated InterTradeIreland and its contribution to development of technology and other business areas.

BC - Reg Empey - if a company wants to go and invest $500m what can you do? What is the cost of training?

Reg Empey - Specify the labour force requirements and all training will be provided free of charge. I have appointed an officer at the NI Bureau in Washington DC to take forward educational links between US and NI.

FM - NI has a well educated workforce with a great work ethic, some of the best infrastructure in Europe and cheaper and faster broadband with Project Kelvin. Cheaper ICT costs, accountany costs and premises costs than London or Dublin. Also cultural and language compatability. Protection of Intellectual property and a regulatory environment in which companies will feel comfortable.

BC - Concluding Remarks: If any company wants to invest in Northern Ireland and needs contacts or help the Clinton Global Initiative will help.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

East Belfast Assembly Roadshow

Fair Play to Dawn Purvis for turning up. The other MLAs were held up by a debate on Policing and Justice. The East Belfast Roadshow will be rescheduled.

Good News Time

I would welcome any stories or anecdotes from people that can educate the public about the positive aspects of devolution. Remember how far we have come in 10 years. Whilst there may be political doom lets create a bank of stories that we could send to people, media and even politicians to raise hope in Northern Ireland.

e.g. Home Start granted funding to provide services for an extra two years in branches that otherwise would have had to close.

£150 grant to those suffering from fuel poverty...more please!

Monday, 21 September 2009

SDLP Leadership Contest

There has been much comment today about the announcement that Mark Durkan will resign as leader of the SDLP should he win the Foyle constituency in the next Westminster election.

There has been some strange criticism of his decision. Did he not say that he wanted to lead the party for 10 years and did not want to do it when he was 50? Yes he did. Is it so strange to see a politician keeping his promise? Perhaps it is, and that is why there will be those who will say he was pushed or 'stabbed in the back'.

Whether or not you agree with Mark Durkan and his policies he has brought the SDLP and some of his political colleagues (not always willingly) to a stage were the police are accepted. He has also personally defended the Good Friday Agreement which, inspite of its faults, brought peace to Northern Ireland and the decommissioning of both IRA and most of the Loyalist weapons (eventually).

For the critics who might say that he was no John Hume or Seamus Mallon I would sday that they are right. But was a John Hume needed? could he have delivered the results that Durkan has? Yes, the SDLP suffered electorally but if that was the price for peace will anyone in their right mind not say it was worth paying? (There are better people than me to answer these questions but I believe it was worth it)

Now there will be a contest and yes it may be largely about the personalities of either Deputy Leader Alasdair McDonnell or Minister Margaret Ritchie. A strong personality will be needed to tackle the challenges we will face going forward. Whoever wins will have to make the party relevant to a population that has to a certain extent switched off politics or some who view the absence of violence as peace. Let this contest not be about egos. Let it be a time for renewal. There is room for a strong peaceful nationalist voice that can tackle

- Dissident Violence
- Economic downturn
- Social deprivation
- Education of our children

A new revitalised SDLP is needed. Whilst it is good to remember the achievements of Hume and Mallon the SDLP cannot afford to rest on its past victories. The party of civil rights has to broaden its image and message to make education and economic rights part of their continuing civil rights campaign.

To whoever takes on the mantle all I can wish them is GOOD LUCK!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Margaret Ritchie Public Forum

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Senator Edward Kennedy RIP

Senator Edward Kennedy has passed away. He died of brain cancer. He was a great campaigner for peace in Ireland putting pressure on all sides when it was required.


Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Party Conference Time

It is that time of year again. Several political parties will be holding their annual party conferences in the coming months.

Interesting scheduling from SF and SDLP.

Party Conferences confirmed include:

SDLP Youth
5th September 2009
Wellington Park Hotel, Belfast

10th October 2009
Stormont Hotel, Belfast

Ulster Unionist Party
24th October 2009
Europa Hotel, Belfast

21st November 2009
La Mon House Hotel, Belfast

21st January 2010
Dunadry Hotel, Templepatrick

5th – 7th March 2010
Slieve Donard Hotel, Newcastle

Sinn Fein
5th – 7th March 2010
RDS, Dublin

Green Party has not yet confirmed the date and venue of their party conference.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

SF Reshuffle

Coutesy of Mitchel McLaughlin is standing down as the chairman of the Northern Assembly Finance and Personnel Committee as part of a reshuffle announced by Sinn Féin today.

However Chief Whip Caral Ni Chuilin said the South Antrim MLA would remain as the party spokesman on the Economy and Finance. “He will now be able to enter and shape the economic debate without the restriction of Chair of a committee restricting his input.”

Mr McLaughlin will be replaced as chairman by West Belfast MLA Jennifer McCann.

She would “continue to bring a grass roots perspective to the work of the Finance Committee and a realisation that budget decisions in the Assembly have a direct effect on the budget of every family household,” said the Chief Whip.

As a result of her move to Finance she will be stepping down as Vice Chair of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee to be replaced by Lagan Valley MLA Paul Butler.

His move will mean him standing down as a member of the Assembly commission, to be replaced by West Tyrone MLA Pat Doherty – who will continue with Sinn Féin’s equality agenda within the commission.

Ms Ni Chuilin said: “The reshuffle will be confirmed at the first available meeting of the Assembly on its return in September and will strengthen Sinn Fein’s ability to deliver change across a wide range of socio economic issues in the months and years ahead.”

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Future NI Agenda

The Executive (our Cabinet) agreed the following Bills and Consultations. Major work ahead on Policing and Justice.


The Executive today approved a wide range of papers and draft Bills representing significant future work for the Assembly and government departments.

The Executive today agreed a draft bill to go before the Assembly in the autumn to enable the future creation of a Department of Justice. The Bill to establish the new Department of Justice and appoint a Minister, is a necessary preparatory step towards devolution of Policing and Justice responsibilities. It will require a specific resolution from the Assembly at a later stage requesting the Secretary of State to transfer the necessary responsibilities.

Other items discussed by Ministers included their standing discussions on the impact of the economic downturn. Ministers discussed the ongoing engagement with financial institutions and were also updated on the work of the Cross Sector Advisory Forum and its various sub groups.

Ministers also agreed a Rates (Amendment Bill) for consideration by the Assembly. The Bill includes measures to help households and smaller businesses during the economic downturn.

Ministers agreed plans to commence a public consultation on the Victims and Survivors Service Bill. The consultation relates to proposals for a new Victims and Survivors Service and follows on from previous consultations on a draft strategy for Victims and Survivors. The consultation period will commence in August and run for a period of 10 weeks.

The Victims and Survivors Service will be the delivery mechanism for funding work with victims and survivors. It is proposed that the Victims and Survivors Service should be constituted as a Non-Departmental Public Body. This would allow it to work at arms length from government and have greater flexibility to respond to the needs of victims and survivors while at the same time retain full responsibility for the use of public funds.

The Executive also agreed to publish Planning Policy Statement 18: Renewable Energy and to set out proposals committing to carbon reduction as well as proceeding with a debt relief bill.

Consultations will also begin on a range of proposals including:

· A Bio Energy Action Plan for Northern Ireland 2009 - 2014
· A draft Social Economy Enterprise Strategy 2009 - 2011
· A Review of Special Educational Needs (SEN) and Inclusion
· A Dormant Accounts Scheme
· A Review of the Regional Transportation Strategy

Other papers approved included :

· Draft Regulations to transpose the EU Floods Directive
· Association of British Insurers/government agreement to the statement of principles for a provision of flood insurance
· The proposed response to the proposals by the Committee on Procedures for Standing Orders on Legislative Consent

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Clinton makes Smart Power Speech

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton gave a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations today in which she made the term'Smart Power' the centrepiece of US Foreign Policy.

'Smart Power' includes 'intelligent use of all means at our disposal including economic and military and the application of old-fashioned common sense in policymaking'. I would urge caution using the term common sense as everyone really knows it is not that common especially in politics and policy.

Basically 'Smart Power' means talking to those who think differently from you. This is a veiled hint at Iran and North Korea. But later the speech states that with regard to Iran the door will not remain open indefinitely. It also mean working in partnership with other countries to achieve common goals such as nuclear non-proliferation, counter terrorism, peace in the Middle East, human rights, energy security, climate change and economic prosperity.I suppose this makes sense given the global economic downturn creating the reality that the US cannot afford to go it alone but of course it will be in the lead. Partnership seems also to be key as there will be efforts to bring NGOs and individuals on board for certain policy options.

The countries who will be receiving attention over the next while appear to be (no surprises) India, China, Russia, North Korea, Iran,Middle East, Haiti, Africa, Pakistan and of course Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes NI is no longer centre of the universe but perhaps there would be an opportunity for a visit on one of the journeys to and from? - A Conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (Video)

Shared via AddThis

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

NI Question Time

NI Question Time at Westminster today focused on: Violence, Political Stability, Loyalist Decommissioning, Size of the Public Sector, Bloody Sunday, Police Recruitment, Criminal Clearance Rates, Police Full Time Reserve, Anti Social Crime, Rascist Attacks, Human Rights Commission, Bill of Rights, Section 75 and the Equality Commission. When Policing and Justice powers are devolved NI Question Time will be very short indeed.

Monday, 6 July 2009

New Start for Planning

The new Minister for Environment Edwin Poots, today released the long awaited consultation on Planning Reform. The substantial reform document focuses on developing a more effective, managable and faster development system in which significant delays are removed. The process for legislation to implement the changes to planning will have to move swiftly and be in plave by autumn 2010 so that the necessary powers can be devolved to local councils as part of the Review of Public Administration (RPA).

Under the RPA local councils will assume responsibility for local development plans, development management/development control and enforcement. The Department will hold on to strategic planning and planning policy, regionally significant applications, legislation, oversight, intervention, audit, governance and performance management.

Devolvoing some planning powere to local councils will help citizens feel closer to the decision making process. The benefits were outlined by the Department:

- more flexible and faster local development plan
- reduction in time taken to produce plan from 6.5years to 3.5 years
- two stage process needing separate adoption - Plan Strategy and a Site Specific Policies and Proposals
- programme management scheme - to ensure public, stakeholders and consultees are aware of key milestones
- a more meaningful approach to community engagement earlier in the planning process
- a faster and more effective examination of plans at independent examination which moves away from objection - based examination process to one which tests the robustness of the plan
- scope for the independent examination to be carried out by the Planning Appeals Commission or independent examiners appointed by Department
- Sustainability Appraisals are carried out for local development plans taking into account social, economic and environmental impacts

District Councils will become responsible for deciding the majority of planning applications.

Councils will be required to draw up statements of community involvement setting out the procedures for involving the local community.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Day 1 for new Ministers

Tomorrow, 1st July will be day one for the new DUP Ministers.

Edwin Poots - Environment
Planning issues will be firmly on his mind as will the cross cutting elements of the Strategic Energy Framework

Robin Newton - Junior Minister, OFMDFM
Children, Elderly, International Relations and a host of other issues will feature

Nelson McCausland - Culture, Arts and Leisure
Olympics, languages and funding will all be on his mind

Sammy Wilson - Finance and Personnel
The Budget and how to get the papers to other Ministers a bit quicker will be on his mind

It will be an interesting summer as these new Ministers bed in to their new portfolios.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

New MLA Code of Conduct

The timing couldnt bve more perfect. In the light of the expenses sacndal a new Speaker is elected to the House of Commons (John Bercow MP) and the Assembly has a new code of conduct for MLAs. Some of the highlights include:

- Register to show any money earned from outside work
- Standards and Privileges Committee will have the power to suspend MLAs who are in breacfh of the Code without any pay
- Family members who are paid rent will be noted on the register

Most interestingly for NI - MLAs will have to take care in the manner in which they express opinions. Presumably this is to target perceived sectarian, rascist of homopobic comments. It will be interesting to see the impact that this will have on MLAs and interpretations of this. I can see some court cases down the line!

New SDLP Assembly Team

The SDLP have announced their new Assembly team.

EMPOYMENT AND LEARNING – Pat Ramsey replaces Alex Attwood


REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT – Tommy Gallagher replaces John Dallat

ENVIRONMENT – John Dallat replaces Tommy Gallagher

OFMDFM – Alex Attwood replaces Dolores Kelly

CULTURE ARTS AND LEISURE – PJ Bradley replaces Pat Ramsey

Mary Bradley will replace Alban Maginness on the Social Development Committee, while Thomas Burns remains spokesman.


ETI – Mark Durkan will be replaced by Alban Maginness

ENVIRONMENT – Patsy McGlone will be replaced by Dolores Kelly.


John Dallat replaces Declan O’Loan on the Committee for Procedures.

Tommy Gallagher replaces Pat Ramsey on the Audit Committee.

Patsy McGlone replaces John Dallat on Public Accounts Committee.

Declan O’Loan replaces Thomas Burns on Public Accounts Committee.

Carmel Hanna will replace Alban Maginness as a member of the Assembly Commission.

Pat Ramsey is now the Assembly Group Whip.

Monday, 22 June 2009

New DUP Ministers

First Minister Peter Robinson has reshufrfled his ministerial team. These mew appointments will shadow the present Ministers until the end of the summer.

DUP Ministers

First Minister Peter Robinson

Culture, Arts and Leisure Nelson McCausland

Enterprise, Trade and Investment Arlene Foster

Environment Edwin Poots

Finance & Personnel Sammy Wilson

Junior OFMDFM Robin Newton

New Committee Chairs will be announced before the end of the week.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009


Oh what a lovely city we live in. I work on the Lisburn Road in Belfast and last night over 100 men, women, children and babies were forced to leave their homes. Why? because they were Romanians.

Our radio shows including Stephen Nolan will rightly today be dominated by this but what will that achieve? Most of the comments on the show will be opposed to this activity whilst one or two idiots who have no idea of what they are talking about will support the thugs who do this.The thugs who do this do not listen to the Nolan show. But they are known. By an large these people are known by the police.

Extra patrols? this has to be the most pathetic response to this kind of activity. The Police have a responsibility to protect the public when are they going to enforce this? Last time I saw a police officer they had several options (non lethal) from tear gas to batons - whilst this may be distasteful to some lets ask the parents of the 5 day old baby what they think after all they are the only people with a real right to comment in this situation. The police have video cameras on their trucks and if the BBC can show pictures that reveal faces are we seriously suggesting the police cant capture the same images?

Politicians and church leaders will come out today and say look at the response we have made to this giving shelter and food as well as condeming this activity which by the way is highly commendable. They will also say the people of Belfast are against this. Are we? How many of us will protest? How many of us will keep watch? How many of us will chase away these idiots?

Or as is more likely will we shake our heads say what a terrible thing and do nothing. Even protests at City Hall against murders of soldiers that threaten to take us back to the bad old days what were there 1-2000 people? and while this goes on the arrogant, stupid and busy try to walk over people making a dignified protest. Hardly a major statement from a population of 1.8million people or even 5million.

This society will not change or improve until the vast majority of ordinary people do something I for one will not be holding my breath? The following is just a reminder

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

Then they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
I did not protest;
I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out for me.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Iraq Inquiry - Opportunity Lost?

The Prime Minister lost a valuable opportunity today to gain the confidence of the electorate when he announced that the Iraq Inquiry would be held in private. The PM stated only a week ago that he would change his style of leadershipo and had learned lessons. This appears not to be the case.

Naturally elements of such an inquiry would include evidence from the Security Services and these would have to be held at least partially in private. But the Iraq war was incredibly divisive across the UK and the decision to hold the inquiry in private will do nothing to heal that division.

The results will not be made known until after the next election. This again offers opportunities for delay and a sense of a lack of urgency in this matter.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Campaign for Irish Unity

The following is courtesy of

Sinn Féin launches new island unity campaign12/06/2009 - 14:01:51

Sinn Féin launched a global campaign to reunify Ireland today with the claim that many unionists are open to their plans.

Unionists in the North's business community were particularly persuaded about the benefits of an all-island economy, according to senior party member Conor Murphy.

The Stormont Regional Development Minister said its campaign will include Irish diaspora events around the world, with conferences in the US, Australia, England and Scotland.

“I think in many senses, with quite a lot of unionism, the quieter element of unionism that isn’t perhaps heard so often, we are pushing at an open door with some of them,” he said.

Mr Murphy will head the party’s new international campaign along with the party’s Donegal senator Pearse Doherty.

They insisted it made economic sense to have a united Ireland.

“At a time like this, given the current economic difficulties, people may ask is this affordable at this stage?” said Mr Murphy.

“I would argue there is more of an impetus in actually trying to sustain the economic future of this island through dismantling things which hinder economic development on the island.”

Mr Doherty added: “It makes complete nonsense to have a country of six million people divided, running two different systems, health systems, tourism systems, infrastructure systems, it makes no sense whatsoever.”

Party leader Gerry Adams will attend the first gathering in New York tomorrow at which former Beirut hostage Brian Keenan will speak.

Another event will be staged in London in July.

Budget Debate Next Week

Just a little alert

The June Monitoring round and Budget are beiong debated in the Assembly next week. This is likely to be the last Budget debate for Finance Minister Nigel Dodds as he is expected to be out in the highly anticipated DUP reshuffle.

The Monitoring Round lets Departments know how much money thay have spent or underspent and the Budget reallocates any un used resources. So as usual expect health and social housing to be winners. Lets watch education.

Double Jobbing and Reshuffle

There is an old Chinese curse - may you live in interesting times. Well that has never been more true in NI.

The double jobbing issue is still excercising our politicians ahead of recess on 4th July. Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie has resigned her seat on Down
Council. This follows party leader Mark Durkan stating a few weeks ago that if he were to stand for Westminster again he would give up being an MLA.

The DUP are spending a lot of time focusing on the issue especially in light of its poor showing in the European elections. First Minister Robinson and one other will be keeping both MLA and MP positions. Nigel Dodds is likely now to let his MLA position go so he will be busy in Westminster and assisting his wife in her new role as MEP. Now its speculation time as to who will get what therefore the following comes with a bit of a caution. So place your bets!

First Minister will remain Peter Robinson

Arlene Foster who has done well given the economic recession may move from Enterprise Trade and Investment to Finance and Personnel

Simon Hamilton an up and coming star of the party mat either take the Junior Minister at OFMDFM (Office of First and Deputy First Minister)or the Environment portfolio

Edwin Poots may return to the Executive as Minister at Enterprise, Trade and Investment

Nelson McCausland may replace Gregory Campbell at Culture Arts and Leisure

One thought crosses my mind Peter Robinson going home to say to Mrs Robinson your not an MLA anymore Iris...oh to be a fly on the wall.

Peter Weir may get the post of Junior Minister

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Subject to Change - The Cabinet

The Cabinet as it sits at 3.38pm on Tuesday 9 June 2009. Comes with a health warning - Subject to Change

The Cabinet
Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service

The Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP
Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal; Minister for Women and Equality (and deputising for the Prime Minister at PMQs)

The Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP
First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and Lord President of the Council

The Rt Hon Lord Mandelson
Chancellor of the Exchequer

The Rt Hon Alistair Darling MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The Rt Hon David Miliband MP
Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor

The Rt Hon Jack Straw MP
Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP
Secretary of State for International Development

The Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The Rt Hon John Denham MP
Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

The Rt Hon Ed Balls MP
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

The Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP
Secretary of State for Health

The Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The Rt Hon Shaun Woodward MP * & #
Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

The Rt Hon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
Minister for the Cabinet Office, and for the Olympics and Paymaster General

The Rt Hon Tessa Jowell MP
Secretary of State for Scotland

The Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP
Chief Secretary to the Treasury

The Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP
Secretary of State for Wales

The Rt Hon Peter Hain MP
Secretary of State for Defence

The Rt Hon Bob Ainsworth MP
Secretary of State for Transport

Lord Adonis
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Ben Bradshaw MP
Other Ministers
Law Officers

Attorney General - The Rt Hon Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC***
Solicitor General - Vera Baird QC MP
Advocate General for Scotland - Lord Davidson of Glen Clova QC
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

Minister of State - The Rt Hon Pat McFadden MP**
Minister of State - The Rt Hon Lord Drayson* & ** (jointly with the Ministry of Defence)
Minister of State - The Rt Hon David Lammy MP
Minister of State - The Rt Hon Rosie Winterton MP*** (jointly with the Department for Communities and Local Government)
Minister of State - Lord Davies of Abersoch CBE* (jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office)
Minister of State - Kevin Brennan MP (jointly with the Department for Children, Schools and Families)
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Lord Carter of Barnes (jointly with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport)
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Ian Lucas MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Baroness Vadera (jointly with Cabinet Office)
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State* - Lord Young of Norwood Green (and Lord in Waiting - paid)
HM Treasury

Financial Secretary - The Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP
Minister of State - Phil Woolas MP (jointly with the Home Office)
Economic Secretary - Ian Pearson MP†
Exchequer Secretary - Kitty Ussher MP†
Financial Services Secretary - Lord Myners CBE‡
Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Minister of State - The Rt Hon Lord Malloch-Brown KCMG**
Minister of State - Lord Davies of Abersoch CBE* (jointly with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills)
Minister of State - Ivan Lewis MP
Minister of State - Glenys Kinnock
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Chris Bryant MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Baroness Taylor of Bolton (jointly with the Ministry of Defence)
Ministry of Justice

Minister of State - The Rt Hon Michael Wills MP
Minister of State - Maria Eagle MP (jointly with the Government Equalities Office)
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Lord Bach
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Bridget Prentice MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Claire Ward MP
Home Office

Minister of State - The Rt Hon David Hanson MP
Minister of State - Phil Woolas MP (jointly with HM Treasury)
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Meg Hillier MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Alan Campbell MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Admiral Lord West of Spithead GCB DSC
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Minister of State - Jim Fitzpatrick MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Huw Irranca-Davies MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Dan Norris MP*
Department for International Development

Minister of State - Gareth Thomas MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Michael Foster MP (Worcester)
Department for Communities and Local Government

Minister of State - The Rt Hon John Healey MP**
Minister of State - The Rt Hon Rosie Winterton MP*** (jointly with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills)
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Shahid Malik MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Sarah McCarthy-Fry MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Ian Austin MP
Department for Children, Schools and Families

Minister of State - The Rt Hon Dawn Primarolo MP***
Minister of State - Vernon Coaker MP
Minister of State - Kevin Brennan MP (jointly with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills)
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Iain Wright MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Baroness Morgan of Drefelin
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State* - Diana Johnson MP (and Assistant Government Whip - paid)
Department of Energy and Climate Change

Minister of State - Lord Hunt of Kings Heath OBE; and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords
Minister of State - Joan Ruddock MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - David Kidney MP*
Department of Health

Minister of State - Gillian Merron MP
Minister of State - Mike O’Brien MP
Minister of State - Phil Hope MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Ann Keen MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Professor Lord Darzi of Denham KBE
Northern Ireland Office

Minister of State - Paul Goggins MP
Cabinet Office

Minister of State - Angela E Smith MP
Parliamentary Secretary - Baroness Vadera (jointly with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills)
Ministry of Defence

Minister of State - Bill Rammell MP
Minister of State - The Rt Hon Lord Drayson* & ** (jointly with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills)
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Baroness Taylor of Bolton (jointly with Foreign and Commonwealth Office)
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Quentin Davies MP*
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Kevan Jones MP
Office of the Leader of the House of Commons

Parliamentary Secretary - Barbara Keeley MP
Government Equalities Office

Minister of State - Maria Eagle MP (jointly with the Ministry of Justice)
Parliamentary Secretary - Michael Foster MP* (Hastings)
Department for Transport

Minister of State - Sadiq Khan MP***
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Paul Clark MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Chris Mole MP
Department for Work and Pensions

Minister of State - The Rt Hon Jim Knight MP**
Minister of State - Angela Eagle MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Helen Goodman MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Jonathan Shaw MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Lord McKenzie of Luton
Department for Culture, Media and Sport

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Lord Carter of Barnes (jointly with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills)
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Barbara Follett MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Gerry Sutcliffe MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Siôn Simon MP*
Wales Office

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Wayne David MP
Scotland Office

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - Ann McKechin MP

European Results and the future

There are many headlines in this European Election. Sinn Fein has topped the poll has to be the most painful for the DUP who previously topped the poll in every election since 1979. In previous elections the DUP transfers would have carried Jim Nicholson into Europe but now he is second place and announcing a comeback for the UUP.

The most interesting comment that I have come across so far comes from DUP leader Peter Robinson he said: "I'm not one who regularly blogs but I did read one comment which I thought was pertinent where it said Sinn Fein have an awful lot to learn from the DUP in terms of governance but the DUP have an awful lot to learn from Sinn Fein in terms of communicating with their base."

The DUP were beaten into third place for several reasons

- Public unhappiness over the expenses scandal
- A loud and effective Jim Allister (66,000 votes)
- A candidate who performed badly in public and didnt energise the DUP base to come out and vote
- An outdated campaign focusing on 'Smashing Sinn Fein' rather than giving constituents positive messages about the benefits of Europe.

The results will have an impact on the future of the Assembly. The 66,000 votes for Jim Allister whilst some are a protest against DUP will probably be sufficient for him to get 4 or 5 seats at the next Assembly election.

The DUP may go on a harder attack on Sinn Fein in future policies and debates to show their core electorate that they are 'still in charge of unionism'. This may have an impact on the devolution of policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland.

The DUP reshuffle which is expected over the coming weeks will be an opprtunity for the leadership to bring in some young talent such as Simon Hamilton and return Edwin Poots to the Executive table. It will also start to shift the focus from their worst showing in 30 years.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Who is next?

Re arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic didnt help and a cabinet reshuffle isnt expected to do much good for Gordon Brown.

There appears to be a rush of Ministers to resign most praise the Prime Minister but one or two have a kick (Blears and Purnell). Defence Secretary John Hutton is going too. Will the last cabinet minister please turn out the lights.

Jack Straw appears to be staying put inspite of gross incompetence and negligence over the stabbing of two French students. The Chancellor is rumoured to have refused to go. Tough luck Ed.

Our own Shaun Woodward (Secretary of State for Northern Ireland) is tipped for promotion - Home Secretary? and loyal Alan Johnson is bound to be promoted?... Minister or Leader?

Brown stands a chance of finding out, like so many employees these days, that his services are no longer required via email.An email is doing the rounds seeking his resignation.

I wonder does he feel like Maggie when she knew the knives were out?

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Time to Vote

Back from holidays and its time to vote. It is important. Yes expenses scandal and not agreeing with the actions of politicians and parties may make you sick but the only way to end that is to vote. Twenty years ago our television screens were covered with dramatic scenes from China. Brave students, journalists and others stood up infront of bullets and very memorably tanks to protest and in some cases die for the right to vote. If you agree - vote, if you disagree - vote, if you are happy, sad, angry, fed up - vote.

Often I hear people say politicians do nothing for me they are only interested in fighting the otherside. Staying at home will not solve that but voting can! Remenber if you dont like the politicians just remember who put them there.

There may indeed be another opportunity to vote soon. Gordon Brown has lost four cabinet ministers and in Prime Ministers Questions he refused to say that the Chancellor would still be in his post in the near future. Its relatively easy to predict that the Conservatives will win but will they do any better?

Whatever you feel about politics at the moment your vote can change it or your vote can keep it. Analysts are predicting 50% turn out for the European elections today - thats pretty pathetic - if you don't vote why should people listen to you complain?

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Off to Sunny Crete

Goodbye Belfast - am off for about 10 days to the sunny isle of Crete. So may not be able to blog as regularly. Back soon. T

Friday, 22 May 2009

Mississippi Burns No More

I am sure many of you have watched the film Mississippi Burning which tells the story of three civil rights workers who are murdered in a town called Philadelphia in 1964. It is a powerful movie only spoiled when in the credits at the end read 'these are fictional characters and ...' like it does in science fiction movies. This unfortunately diminishes the power of the movie.

Well there has been a massive change in the town of Philadelphia which has a population of 8,000 55% of whom are white. The town has a black mayor - James Young. Below is a link from CNN

All Change on the way

Political parties here are now falling over themselves to drop double jobbing. Basically you are either an MLA or an MP you cant be both. In the past we have had politicians who have had two or three jobs ranging from MLA, Minister, MP, MEP, Party Leader, Committee Chair and Councillor all at the same time.

Never mind the salary and expenses issue - how can a single man or woman effectively do any combination of these jobs and not miss something - One person one job. I suppose the public never seemed to mind in the past because the same people kept getting voted in.

The ending of double and triple jobbing could bring a new and fresh approach to politics in Northern Ireland. New, younger and more dynamic people across the parties may now be given a chance to lead in the Assembly and Westminster.

Last night the DUP stated that double jobbing would cease - so this could mean change for Sammy Wilson, Gregory Campbell, David Simpson, Iris Robinson, Nigel Dodds, Jeffrey Donaldson, Dr Ian Paisley, William McCrea jury is out on how it might affect First Minister Robinson.

I suppose the book is now open as to who will get what. Changes will be likely to take affect in September. Any thoughts on who should get what let me know.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Cameron Direct in Ballymena

Conservative Party leader David Cameron visited Ballymena today as part of his Cameron Direct series of engagements. He also came to help campaign for Jim Nicholson in the Euro eletions.

From the minute he walked in the pace was fast, energetic and his delivery was to the point and did not duck any issues that were brought up. It was refreshing to see a political leader stand before the people and take questions without any fore warning. The questions ranged from European elections, Lady Sylvia Hermon, Health, Education, expenses, victims and the passing of his son Ivan.

On Sinn Fein he stated that MPs should not receive exspenses unless they took their seats at Westminster. He stated that he was happy that Sinn Fein had changed and become part of the government in Nrthern Ireland. Cameron said that he sometimes found this hard to take as the IRA had murdered his friend Ian Gow MP when he was a researcher in Westminster.

Alot of his talk focused on bringing Northern Ireland into mainstream UK politics. In his remarks on victims he recgnised the pain that they had gone through but felt encouraged by those who could see a better future for Northern Ireland beyond their pain.

Health and education were he stated devolved issues in Northern Ireland and he was happy that they were. On education he stated that he could not see why changes to the system (11+) were needed and he supported grammar schools stating that pupils here were 10% more succesful than in his own constituency. On health he said that there should be a national debate on the issue to focus spending priorities.

On the economy he said that the last budget was wrong from start to finish and that the Prime Minister was tired and out of touch.

Cameron said that the recent expenses scandal would have come to public attention in July when the figures were supposed to be published. He has instigated a root and branch examination of his party colleagues expenses through a new scrutiny panel. Anyone who did not co-operate with the panel would have the Whip removed and no longer be a Conservative MP.

Then he was off to further engagements. Overall the 60minutes were an interesting insight into the mind of the man most likely to be the next Prime Minister. It would be interesting to see if Prime Minister Brown would engage in similar activity in Northern Ireland.

A Day of Shame

Yesterday has to have been one of the worst days to be Irish and Catholic. I have not read Justice Ryan report and in a sense do not wish to. Seeing and reading the headlines is enough to make any normal person feel both sad and angry.

My father and uncle went to Christian Brothers school and shuddered at the memories of physical punishment inflicted on them - sticks - straps with studs....I thought this was exaggeration. They were not angels I am sure but did they deserve this? I think not.

It should be recognised that thousands of children went to Catholic schools and had a good education and were not abused in anyway. Therefore, I hope that not all priests and religious orders are tarred with this scandal. The vast majority provide excellent and much needed services to children and people in need across society on both parts of this island.

The Catholic Church in Ireland has a massive job to do to recover a position of trust in society. Saying sorry is not good enough. Hiding behind legal rulings is not good enough. Hiding files, moving clergy, covering it up is not good enough. We have just seen the Speaker of the House of Commons resign over the expenses scandal. Church leaders need to do likewise. Catholics speak about penance. Any priest or religious order found to have carried out these devastating crimes needs to be named and if possible brought to court.

The victims should not have to go through any further trauma over the abuse of trust, responsibility and or the physical, mental and sexual abuse at the hands of people that we were always taught to view with respect.